The charismatic African penguins living in my neighbourhood are back in the news. A notice was put out last month by the South African National Parks board that a strain of avian influenza virus (H5N8 strain) has been detected in the colony at Boulders Beach. So far penguin eighteen deaths have been noted. The state veterinarians are working to contain the outbreak. Let’s hope they succeed.
Playing tour guide, my first stop is this vantage point overlooking the splendid vista of False Bay. Simon’s Town lays at the foothills, and way in the distance on the opposite side is Cape Hangklip. The small town bustles with a distinct naval ‘air’ having been established as a naval base by the British in 1799 and where today the SA Navy is stationed. We’ll pass through it, as we’re on our way to visit Boulders to see the African penguin colony.
The Boulders area is dotted with impressively sculpted granite rocks sheltering discreetly placed sandy coves. Here a colony of African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) have found a comfortable nesting area. From just two breeding pairs in 1982 the population numbers have increased to about 2200 in recent years.
We will venture down the boardwalk to see the main nursery.
As you will note the houses are quite nearby – this is as close to an ‘urban’ colony as can be imagined. The area is fenced off, but often the penguins stray beyond the boundaries and care must be taken driving or parking to check if all is clear.
Sadly the African penguin is listed in the Red Data Book as an endangered species, and the birds are in considerably more trouble than rhinos. With the decline in shoal fish such as pilchards and anchovy they could be heading for extinction in the not too distant future.
To end the tour, a nod to the eminent granite Rock Stars, all of 540 million year old. A pathway follows along the coast for a nice leisurely stroll and swim to top off the experience.
It rained on New Year’s eve here in Cape Town and we awoke at dawn on the morning of the 1st to the gentle patter of raindrops still falling. Now five days later it’s back to parched earth and the dam level aggregate has dropped to 29.1%. We are worried; very worried. The City Council warns that Day Zero could happen as early as 18 March – that is when the taps will be switched off and citizens will have to queue for water at designated collection points.
Meanwhile the summer season is in full swing; beaches, scenic sights, vineyards, restaurants are all buzzing with festivities and happy visitors. At times residents feel overwhelmed and scuttle off to the lesser known spots. Or get up early to beat the queues to the beach or nature parks.
This past week the mornings have been sweetly scented and cool and as we’ve set out to hike or cycle through our favourite nature reserve we’ve tended to see animals on the move, generally moving through an area foraging. Recent sightings of five different baboon troops highlight how their behaviour changes when their territory overlaps with the park’s recreational areas or how the attractants in town, like the refuse bins lure them off the mountain. For most of the year the baboons forage on natural vegetation or in the rock pools. Come summer and the picnic spots draw them like bees to a honeypot.
Below the Buffels troop check out the barbecue area for scraps.
In contrast the baboons in the photos (below) of the Kanonkop troop like to forage in natural vegetation.
Chacma baboon picking sourfigs.
The fruit of the sourfig is high in vitamin C
Seaching for sourfigs.
Baby rides jockey style.
A favourite scene – juveniles with a baby picking the berries from Rhus crenata.
Sister is playing nursemaid and keeping an eye on baby while mum forages.
So intent on eating his meal of Leucodendron cones.
Chacma baboons in restio field.
There’s always time for a bit of rough and tumble.
On the Atlantic side of the Peninsula, another troop – probably the Olifantsbos troop dash across the beach in a strong breeze to get to the rock pools to forage for mussels and other shellfish delicacies.
Beach scene when the wind was blowing.
Heading to the rock pools.
The dash across the beach.
The sand was stinging that day.
The Smitswinkel troop are generally kept off the road by the conservation rangers, but this season we’ve found them on the road several times – a hazardous situation for both baboons and motorists.
Smitswinkel troop on the road.
Every piece of plastic is a target for inspection by the baboons.
The contents of a refuse bag.
Baboons from the Waterfall troop sometimes make excursions into town to raid the rubbish bins –
Bin raid in Simons Town
Bread has a high calorie reward for a baboon.
Street bins are not locked and the lids easily knocked off.
This scene was an easy choice as my favourite shot of the year! It lacks in photographic technique and neither is it a good composition, but rather it speaks in an existential sense – a wild untrammelled spirit ; flying along, unfettered, free. It’s also unusual in that the Cape Mountain zebra are a species associated with mountains, and to have recorded this scene on the beach is (i think) a personal shot of a lifetime. I posted it after the devastating storm in June and wrote about it here.